Photos By Hillary Ehlen
Greatness is defined through a multitude of different criteria. For the casual spectator and sports fan, Adam Thielen’s greatness stems from his play on the gridiron on Sundays.
It comes from his humble beginnings in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, where he was a standout for the Lakers. He transitioned that into a stellar career at Minnesota State University Mankato where he is tied for first in school history in total receptions. From there, he went undrafted, eventually being signed by his hometown team, the Minnesota Vikings. Since, he has been a two-time Pro Bowler, having the ninth most receiving yards in the NFL in 2018.
That is the story you and many others know. Adam Thielen’s rise to the NFL has been told several different times and in distinct forms. The perseverance and hard work Thielen has exhibited and continues to exhibit perfectly defines our region. Hence, why many consider Thielen to be their favorite player.
Yet, there is a layer to Adam Thielen you may not be aware of. It is a layer that may prove more fruitful than anything he does on the football field. For however likable and personable you feel Thielen is now, this layer multiplies that by ten. The Thielen Foundation, created by Adam and his wife Caitlin, strives to help serve, educate and inspire youth in need.
However, the Thielen family and their foundation may not exist had it not been for Adam’s upbringing in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. He recalls learning one common value that he believes brought him to where he is today. It is one that rings true for many in our area.
“The first thing would be hard work. I think it’s blue-collar and you work for what you get in Detroit Lakes and I think there is that mentality. It was the mentality of our coaches. As high school football players, you can’t just run around and catch footballs,” Thielen said. “You have to get out there and do the dirty work and you got to block, you got to do whatever it takes to help the team win. I think it’s those things that the community kind of carries, you just bust your tail and let everything else fall into place.”
Doing that dirty work on the field brought Thielen to Minnesota State University Mankato. While he was a standout wide receiver for the Mavericks, he found something much more valuable in Mankato. Thielen met his future wife Caitlin while attending school there. The Minnesota Vikings signed Thielen as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and the couple now have two young boys, Hudson and Asher.
The Thielen family has always had a passion for youth, even before they had children of their own. It was this passion and growing fervor for helping others that the base of The Thielen Foundation began to take shape. With Adam becoming one of the NFL’s top receivers, the Thielen family felt they could use their platform to help youth in need.
“Both my wife and I have a passion for youth. Trying to help them maybe not make the same mistakes we made or try to help them by telling our younger selves what we know now,” said Thielen on their goal in creating The Thielen Foundation. “We have a passion for it, we have a heart for it and I think the more we’ve worked with some of these kids and programs, it just makes us more passionate about it and more excited to dig deeper and impact as many kids as we can.”
With that in mind, the Thielen family began to put their plan for a foundation into action. One of their core goals was to help youth reach their full potential in life. Whether that be in sports, academics or otherwise, Thielen knew it came down to providing kids resources to reach their full potential.
“The biggest thing is helping to provide them with resources and opportunities. So much of it is that they don’t have those resources or those opportunities that might help them in the future. Sports have done so much for my wife and I that we want to make sure that if a kid wants to play a sport they have the resources or the ability to do that,” he said. “They can go and they can pay to join or they can buy the equipment necessary to play. That’s kind of the basis and the backbone behind it.”
Another facet of The Thielen Foundation’s work is with the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. Both Adam and Caitlin frequently visit the Pediatric Behavioral Health unit in the hospital to meet and encourage patients. The Thielen family found that behavioral and mental health was an under-appreciated portion of pediatric medicine. What has ensued with these visits are life-changing conversations for both the patients and Adam and Caitlin.
“It just came down to it being the biggest need. We had met with the hospital and they said that nobody had really gone there or nobody has really helped out with that area. That was kind of our sign from God pretty much, saying that this was a great path for us. The more that we’ve worked with them and gone to these visits, we understand why He led us that way,” Thielen said of working with the Masonic Children’s Hospital. “I feel like it has made an impact on the kids, but for us it’s put a different perspective on life. Seeing what some of these kids go through and the challenges they face at a young age that was out of their control, so it’s been really cool and there have been some great stories we’ve had and things we can look back on today that show how they just want someone to come. They want someone to talk to them, we just sit in a circle and talk for an hour, so it’s really cool.”
Adam and Caitlin are now branching out The Thielen Foundation. They recognize the communities in our area that provided them opportunities to be great. So, they feel it necessary to give back to these communities with their foundation. Fargo is just one of many communities in North Dakota and Minnesota that have impacted the Thielen family. Hence, Adam and Caitlin took to the stage at One Million Cups on June 19 to showcase their thanks for Fargo. The foundation also hosted a fundraiser and put on a football camp.
“It really is just giving back to the communities that have done so much for us. This community is close to home, we feel like it has done a lot for us and we feel the support from this area,” said Thielen of Fargo and his visit to it. “So we want to give back to those areas that we feel supported, we feel people care. It just fits with our mentality and our mission statement and how we grew up and things like that.”
How Fargo Can Help
One thing Thielen wants to do with his foundation is spread it across the Midwest. This cannot be done without the support of local businesses in communities across the region. Fargo is no different in that respect. While Thielen wants Fargo businesses to come alongside the foundation in their quest to expand, he feels his personal stories with youth is the greatest “sales pitch” for what this foundation is capable of.
“Talking about the different stories that we’ve had from doing these visits. That can impact a lot and really get people excited and wanting to get involved. We’ve had such great stories of kids that just want us to sit down with them. They didn’t even know who I was or who we were, they were just excited that somebody was there, hanging out with them and talking about real life, saying we have the same problems as everyone else,” he said. “It’s tough nowadays with social media and with how media works. Either you look perfect or you look like you’re the worst person in the world. Not everyone is perfect, no one is and no one is the worst in the world. It’s showing that the real-life problems that we have and being real with them. I think if people could be in just one of those sessions, they’d be so excited and want to get involved because it is so impactful and powerful.”
With Fargo in full support of Thielen in his ventures on and off the field, The Thielen Foundation will continue to grow. All Adam Thielen wants to see in terms of growth is providing more resources and opportunities for those less fortunate.
“Our next step is partnering with a high school and trying to help with the underprivileged youth that doesn’t have the resources or the opportunities. I think it could really impact them, finishing their sports career or graduating from high school,” he said. “That can make a really big impact on youth, so going toward that way and doing a little bit of behavioral health too. Just trying to help kids that don’t have the opportunities that we had that helped us so much as kids and helped shaped us.”
Adam Thielen is a great NFL wide receiver. He caught 113 passes for 1,373 yards and nine touchdowns last season. That is greatness on the gridiron in its purest form. However, those stats will one day not matter. They will not hold any weight outside of a conversation about amazing NFL wide receivers.
What will carry weight long after Adam Thielen plays his last snap is his work with The Thielen Foundation. The generations that will be impacted by his work will have a long-term effect on our region, country and world.
Yes, Adam Thielen is a great football player. However, his greatness will not be defined by what he does on the field, but the incredible influence he and his family will have on future generations.
Learn more at thielenfoundation.org.
Choice Bank’s Role In The Thielen Foundation
Choice Bank was the first major partner with The Thielen Foundation. Not only did they provide financial support in the early stages of the foundation, but they also became a resource for the Thielen Family. Without the help of Choice Bank, The Thielen Foundation may not be what it is today.
Learn more about Choice Bank at bankwithchoice.com
If you love the work The Thielen Foundation is doing in our community and beyond, check out these local Fargo-Moorhead non-profits that are a part of the Impact Foundation.
The Impact Foundation offers resources that help equip non-profits to accomplish their missions. Primarily, the Impact Foundation teaches non-profits how to master the art of fundraising. They have been working with non-profits in North Dakota and Minnesota for a decade now.
North Dakota 4-H Foundation
Our mission is to secure and manage financial resources to support the North Dakota 4-H program.
African Soul, American Heart
ASAH Protects, Educates, and Empowers orphaned girls from the Republic of South Sudan in Uganda to protect them from the civil war.
American Gold Gymnastics
We encourage and teach children to believe in themselves through quality gymnastics instruction. Inspiring Dreams, Building Confidence, Achieving Excellence.
Big Brothers, Big Sisters Of The Village
Kids have the potential to change the world. Big Brothers Big Sisters defends this potential, clearing the path to their biggest possible future.
BIO Girls improves self-esteem of adolescent girls through empowerment of self and service to others.
Boys and Girls Club of the Red River Valley
Our mission is to provide programs and services enabling all young people to achieve their full potential in a safe and caring environment.
CHARISM is a neighborhood support center offering a safe and welcoming anchor point to anyone in need through relationship-based, skill-building programs and services that improve quality of life.
CreateND – Destination Imagination North Dakota
Destination Imagination North Dakota is a STEM+Arts organization that provides fun, innovative opportunities to students, adults, and organizations in North Dakota and the Moorhead Region of MNDI.
Creative Plains Foundation
Creative Plains Foundation is dedicated to providing art education opportunities that nurture, support, and inspire low-income and at-risk youth in our community.
Cullen Children’s Foundation
As a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, we provide financial assistance to children’s healthcare organizations within the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding areas.
Cultural Diversity Resources
Cultural Diversity Resources address challenges and opportunities of the growth of ethnically diverse populations in Cass and Clay counties through education, youth, social and economic development.
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch
Dakota Boys and Girls Ranch is a Christian residential treatment and educational center for troubled children and their families.
Funds raised by Family Wellness benefit the Inspire Wellness Initiative which provides need-based wellness programming to help people in our community cook well, move well, and live well for life.
Mission: Supporting Children, Youth, and Adults on Their Life’s Journey Towards Independence. Making independence happen and provide basic needs for the 2,200 children, youth, & adults we support.
Removing barriers in the way of local students’ mental well-being by providing mental health education, resources and access to early intervention care. We’re changing and saving lives every day!
Inspire Innovation Lab
We provide creative learning experiences for teachers, students and the community through Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math education.
Jeremiah Program Fargo Moorhead
Helping two generations at a time, we prepare determined single mothers to succeed in the workforce, ready their children to succeed in school, and reduce dependence on public assistance.
Junior Achievement tackles issues that stand between students and a successful future through hands-on experiences focusing on financial literacy, college & career readiness, and entrepreneurship.
Legacy Children’s Foundation
Legacy provides highly effective after-school academic and service-focused programs to launch at-risk teens into an educated life of productivity and joy! No child is left behind!
Lend A Hand Up for Kids
Gifts to Lend A Hand Up for Kids are matched by DMF and 100% distributed to families with children who are battling a life-threatening and/or incapacitating health condition.
Make-A-Wish North Dakota
Make-A-Wish creates life-changing wishes for children with critical illnesses.
Moorhead Schools Legacy Foundation
The mission of Moorhead Schools Legacy Foundation is to enhance the educational experience of all students in Moorhead Area Public Schools ISD 152 currently and into the future.
North Dakota Heart Gallery
Every child deserves a home. We help North Dakota’s foster children find forever families.
Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley
The Ronald McDonald House of the Red River Valley supports families whose children are receiving medical care in the Fargo-Moorhead area by providing home-like comfort, support and care for families.
Special Olympics North Dakota
The mission of Special Olympics is to provide year-round sports training and athletic competition in a variety of Olympic-type sports for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
The Gifted Learning Project
We are a grassroots nonprofit providing direct services to those with learning disabilities. We provide positive resources that erase barriers for developing each person’s talents or “gifts”.
The Great North Pole
The Great North Pole exists to help families in financial hardship by leveraging national business relationships through local community partnerships.
TNT Kid’s Fitness & Gymnastics
We believe that every individual is able to unlock their potential through movement.
Trollwood Performing Arts School
The mission of Trollwood Performing Arts School is simple, “…to inspire those we serve through the arts to realize their full potential and be a positive influence in the global community.”
Helping homeless, runaway, trafficked and struggling youth.
Visit impactgiveback.org for more non-profits.